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If you have a lot of china, it's best to keep an inventory

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By Martha Stewart
Syndicated Columnist
  • Stay organized by keeping an inventory of your fine china: Log each pattern separately and note how many of each piece you have.

    Tony Cenicola The New York Times

    Stay organized by keeping an inventory of your fine china: Log each pattern separately and note how many of each piece you have.

Question: I have an extensive china collection. What's the best way to keep track of it?
Answer: It's wise to keep an inventory of your dishware. It can help you remember what you're still searching for at antiques stores and flea markets and will come in handy when you're deciding how to set the table.
For each pattern, start an entry with the pattern's name. Include a picture of the back and front of one plate. Then, list how many you have of each piece.
Keep your inventory in a binder or on your computer.
If you know your collection is valuable, have it professionally appraised. Cataloging is a part of this service and considered by insurance companies to be legal and binding.
Not sure whether your collection is valuable? You can search online sources to find out what pieces similar to yours have sold for. Try, which shows prices for free (though registration is required), or subscription-based Many galleries also keep past auction results online.
Note that these prices are the highest amount paid for an item, not what it's likely to fetch in the local market. In addition, how many items you have -- and whether the number is even (better) or odd -- also affects the value.
According to collecting editor Fritz karch, six or more of a type of dishware still used today (think dinner plates, not saucers) are generally worth more. Large serving pieces also hold their value.

Q: How does "green" dry cleaning differ from the traditional process? Are the results as good?
A: Most dry cleaners use the solvent perchloroethylene -- "perc" for short -- which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, classifies as an environmental hazard and a "possible to probable" human carcinogen. The government agency requires cleaners to monitor and control emissions of the chemical; those located in residential buildings must stop using it by 2020.
Some states in the U.S. are also tightening restrictions on the use of perc by dry cleaners. For example, California will ban it by 2023.
"Green" cleaners, which purport to use safer methods, have proliferated over the past decade. But there are no laws regarding the use of the term green; anyone who wishes to refer to his business as green may do so, regardless of the techniques employed.
Truly green dry cleaners utilize one of the two methods preferred by the EPA: wet cleaning or carbon dioxide. Wet cleaning is essentially soap-and-water laundering that employs the mildest detergents extra gently, followed by a professional pressing.
In general, more structured garments such as coats aren't suited to this process; a skilled cleaner can help you decide which garments are most appropriate for this option.
In carbon dioxide cleaning, a machine pressurizes the naturally occurring gas. The resulting liquid along with recyclable cleaning agents form a solvent used to clean clothing. The exhaust is minimal and the amount of energy expended by this process is less than with traditional dry cleaning.
And unlike wet cleaning, this method may be used on all clothing. Unfortunately, few cleaners offer this method because the equipment is expensive to purchase and install. Wet cleaning and carbon dioxide are as effective as perc, but the cost is higher for the consumer.
Luckily, it's possible to launder many "dry-clean only" items at home (go to for details). When the dry cleaner can't be avoided, you can look for a reliably green option in your area by going to the website of Occidental College's Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (search for "dry cleaners" at
If the database doesn't list one nearby, find out more about the practices of your local cleaner. Ask what solvents his business uses and how he discards hazardous waste. You can also request that he utilize only the wet cleaning method, which is appropriate for many garments. And when you're shopping for clothing, try to choose pieces you can care for yourself.
Address questions to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., Ninth floor, New York, NY 10001. Send email to
© 2011 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.
Story tags » Home ImprovementInterior decorating

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